Saturday, December 2, 2023

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

by Jack Seabrook

I have a long ago memory of being taken by my father to a grindhouse in Downtown Newark to see a double feature of It! with Roddy McDowall and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. It must have been 1969 or 1970, which means I was six or seven years old, and I vaguely recall a few scenes from both movies. I also recall being so frightened that I had nightmares for a month.

It! recently showed up on TV one evening and I was able to catch bits and pieces of it. It was more silly than scary, so when the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV came along, it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the other film from that double bill of over 50 years ago to see how it holds up. Fortunately, my local library had a Blu-ray of the Dracula film, so watching it again after all this time was easy.

The opening credits certainly set things up well, with blood dripping down the screen and a loud, orchestral score setting the mood. A dead woman is discovered hanging upside down inside a bell in a church tower in the opening scene; of course, she has two puncture wounds in her neck and there's a trail of blood, so you-know-who has been at it again.

A year later, a Catholic priest, depressed because no one comes to mass anymore (shades of 2023!), receives a visit from a monsignor, who questions the local pubgoers as to why they've stopped showing up. Learning that it's due to their fear of nearby Castle Dracula, the plucky monsignor grabs a large, metal cross and drags the parish priest along with him on a journey up a rocky mountain to the castle. The priest bails halfway up and, while the monsignor is attaching the cross to the castle's front door, the dopey priest manages to fall, tumble down among some rocks, and sustain a cut on his head. Dracula happens to be frozen in ice right nearby, having ended up there at the end of his last flick (Dracula: Price of Darkness) and, not surprisingly, blood from the priest's head trickles through a crack in the ice and reaches the vampire's lips. Voila! In the blink of a bloodshot eye, he's up and out of the ice, all warmed up and pointing at the priest with a hypnotic stare. Uh oh.

The movie then alternates domestic scenes with darkened scenes of Dracula and the hypnotized priest getting Dracula all settled in a comfy, second-hand coffin in the basement of a pub/bakery, where Paul--a Roger Daltrey lookalike--works. His girlfriend, Maria, is a knockout blonde who is so virginal that she sleeps with a doll. She is contrasted with the earthy, busty barmaid, Zena, who wears the standard issue Hammer low-cut blouse and bends over at every opportunity. Paul is a 1960s Swinging London guy in a movie set in 1906--he proudly tells the monsignor, who happens to be Maria's uncle, that he's an atheist, which is not the best way to ingratiate himself with her family.

Zena the busty barmaid ends up being chased through the woods one night by the priest, who drives a horse and carriage; she ends up panting and heaving her bosom in front of Dracula, who quickly puts the bite on her. Unfortunately for Zena, the vampire prefers blondes to brunettes and orders her to bring Maria to him. The gorgeous Maria barely avoids being bitten in the basement, and Zena is quickly disposed of by the priest at Dracula's request, tossed unceremoniously into a fireplace in the basement bakery.

That night, Dracula pays a visit to Maria and her dolly in her room, where he bites her neck. He's back the next night for more, but this time the monsignor pops into her room, holding a cross, and it's out the window for Dracula. The monsignor gives chase but receives a fatal head wound from the priest. On his death bed sofa, the monsignor charges young Paul with protecting Maria but, since Paul is an atheist, that presents a challenge. Paul must have one of the hardest noggins in England? Germany? Transylvania?, because he recovers quickly after being bashed in the noodle with a candlestick by the priest.

Paul orders the priest to take him to Dracula, which isn't hard, since the vampire is resting in his coffin in the basement of the pub/bakery. Paul plunges a stake into the vampire's chest but, because he won't pray (he's an atheist, remember), Dracula hops up, pulls the stake out of his own chest, and throws it at Paul! This is the scene I remember from over 50 years ago--it was frightening and baffling, since Dracula usually vaporizes the moment a stake enters his thorax.

Dracula escapes to the rooftops, where Maria approaches him. Things turn baffling from here on in, as Dracula drives pell-mell through the forest in his horse and carriage, with Maria at his side, while Paul rides equally hard on a horse, looking for him. Paul rushes into the pub (a different pub?) that had been seen at the start of the film, asking if there's a castle anywhere nearby where a vampire might hang out. I had thought the pub was atop Paul's bakery and that he lived upstairs, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Anyway, Dracula makes it to his castle and has Maria remove the cross from the door and toss it over a parapet; it falls to the rocks below and lands right side up, which is key. Paul appears and struggles with Dracula, causing both to fall over the parapet. Paul is fine, but Dracula is impaled on the cross! The priest shows up and must no longer be hypnotized, since he starts praying, which finishes off the vampire. Paul and Maria live happily ever after, with Paul crossing himself at the end, and Dracula disintegrates, though the budget must not have allowed for a shot of the process, since we see Dracula impaled, there is a cut away, and then we see just his cape and the cross, implying that he has turned to dust and scattered in the breeze.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave benefits from the usual Hammer colors and supporting players, but the script is a bit weak. Christopher Lee does the staring thing that he does so well, and the action scenes are fine, though the ending is a bit rushed and rather confusing, seeming like the writer didn't know how to get all of the characters into place for the conclusion he had in mind. Still, Veronica Carlson is stunning as Maria, there are some good, bloody shots, and the 92-minute running time passes quickly. It's far from the best of the Hammer Draculas, but it's worth a look. And it's not nearly as scary as it was when I was seven years old!


Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

Loved reading about that childhood double bill, I remember my dad introducing me to Oliver Reed as a werewolf in these film productions... but I was more scared of him as Bill Sykes in Oliver. Adored your fun take on this film, and thanks for bringing it to our blogathon.

Jack Seabrook said...

His Bill Sykes was terrifying!

John L. Harmon said...

I haven't seen a lot of the hammer Dracula sequels, but I enjoyed your review! I especially loved that your dad took you to a grindhouse theater! My maladjusted mind immediately hoped there was an Andy Milligan double feature at that theater at some point in time!

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm surprised I'd not heard of Milligan. Fascinating!

John L. Harmon said...

I'm not overly surprised because I only stumbled upon him on Turner classic movies in 2020, but I've been obsessed ever since! He's on the fringes of the fringes of cinema!

Todd Mason said...

Milligan is the Harry Stephen Keeler of horror films.

I caught GRAVE on tv when I was about 10 or so, and my father came by and caught the last 10 minutes or so, and his residual Baptist upbringing was annoyed by the impalement.

It took me forever, till last month, to figure out which vampire film I saw as a 6yo, the first film I was allowed to see one in a theater on my own, after my mother sat with me for the first ten minutes or so to make sure it wouldn't be too inappropriate. It was a 1970/71 reissue of a 1963 release, from Hammer/backed and distributed by Universal: KISS OF THE VAMPIRE:

Now to finally determine what that ca. 1970-71 DC sf comic book, with a space camp lead story and guy wandering around during atomic war backing story, was!

Peter Enfantino said...

I was only 11 or 12 when I saw this at a re-release (on a triple bill with two other Hammers) at the Fox in San Jose. By then, Christopher Lee's screen time had begun to diminish and so had this pre-teen's interest in the Dracula movies. I do remember liking the climax of Scars of Dracula but that was the highlight, for me, of anything after Horror.

John L. Harmon said...

I'm probably going to enjoy any film that offend someone with a religious background.

Also, I will have to dig into Harry Stephen keeler!

Brian Schuck said...

The first Hammer horror I saw at the theater that blew my impressionable young mind was this film's predecessor, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. I've always thought that reviving Dracula with mere drops of blood was way too easy, but in Prince, a victim is hung up like a side of beef over Dracula's remains, and well, talk about pre-teen nightmares!

Risen has all the classic elements (except for Peter Cushing) - the rationalist/atheist, the knowing cleric/scholar, the beautiful, innocent virgin and the busty barmaid - but for me, the whole doesn't gel quite as entertainingly as some other Draculas.

P.S.: I've never seen that ad with the model sporting twin band-aids before - very clever!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! It was a fun film to revisit.

MichaelWDenney said...

There's something magical about how some movies we saw in our youth terrified us for no clear reasons. I still can't bring myself to watch The Monster Club after it traumatized me when I was young, and it was supposed to be a comedy! There's also a movie I saw on late night tv when I very young. I can't even remember the title but I remember the end scaring the wits out of me. So, I can completely relate.

I love the "Obviously" tagline on the poster for this film. :D

Jack Seabrook said...

That's a whole nother post--things you vividly recall but can't identify!

J-Dub said...

"Roger Daltrey lookalike" - I nearly shot coffee out of my nose laughing at that. But now that I know that joke is there, I won't get fooled again

Jack Seabrook said...

I see what you did there!

bobby said...

Good write-up Jack.
My two cents...If the vampire-myth and its cinematic representations is about anything, it's about sex (and sequel bucks). I've not much respect for sequels, but this film has one of the greatest sequences, one of the most quintessential in the annuals of vampire cinema - the seduction of Maria. Brilliantly directed and photographed with a sinously rich orchestral accompaniment, all silent glances, transfixed looks, silent commanding and brooding presence, shock, fear, mesmerismric conquest...Carlson's Maria lays herself prone upon her bed in her shadowed bedroom, before her anticipated taking, caressing her clothed breast. This before the POV shots of his gentle kissing and stroking her skin with his breath. When he does bite into her and she orgasms, her hand pushing away in escasty the doll representing her innocence and past. It's a marvel of brilliant cinematic filmmaking at the hands of craftsmen and one of the most erotically charged. It really belongs in a better film, to the best of the Hammer films, the first Dracula and its sequel, Brides, and is worthy of the best two other films, Coppola's 1993 take on it and the BBC's 1977 version with Louis Jordan.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your comment! I agree that it's a great scene.